By Scott Meacham
The coronavirus pandemic has given whole segments of the economy the opportunity, and yes, even the permission, to do things differently. It is a generational opportunity for entrepreneurs who want to solve big problems for important industries.
Over the last few weeks, I have focused on macro implications of the pandemic—entrepreneurial pivots, the drop in the price of energy, the expansion of internet access for Oklahoma students, and the plusses and minuses of working from home. For this last column in my series, I asked Dr. Angelique Barreto — my primary care physician — to talk about the micro impact of the pandemic on a family practice like hers.
“When I look back, the way I run my practice has completely changed,” Dr. Barreto said. “Other physicians may have a different set of circumstances, but I don’t believe it will ever return to pre-COVID days again. The digitalization of my practice and the ability to use telehealth effectively has been the best thing to come out of this pandemic.”
As defined by the New England Journal of Medicine, telehealth is the delivery of healthcare, health education, and health information services via remote technologies. From mobile health apps (smartphones are used by more than 80 percent of the people in the U.S.) to video conferencing, to remote patient monitoring (RPM), technologies supporting telehealth are available and robust.
“This was going to happen anyway over time,” Dr. Barreto said, “but sometimes it takes a crisis to effect change. The federal government and the insurance companies agreeing to reimburse physicians at equivalent rates of office visits, while reducing the pressure of charting and reporting, which needed to happen anyway, allowed physicians like me to keep the virtual doors of our clinics open. My staff could remain employed and my patients could get the care they needed.”
Further, she says, patients became more directly engaged in their own health.
“The telehealth approach encouraged patients to use different tools such as oximeters and blood pressure devices which made a huge difference. Even my older patients have adapted quickly. We will need studies, but over time, I suspect that these changes will lead to better health outcomes for patients and cutting red tape and burdensome regulations will lead to driving down the cost of healthcare.”
Another significant improvement Dr. Barreto saw across her practice, especially as an independent physician, was heightened communication and collaboration between physicians across different specialties.
“COVID-19 is a multisystem disease,” she said. “It cannot always be managed through one specialty. As a moderate user of social media, one of my realizations was the effective use of social media groups and even hospital staff groups, to share clinical information and updates on protocols and management of the disease at lightning speed. I have classmates in the U.K. who were in my whatsapp group advising me on how to best proceed in situations I came across at the start of the Pandemic. Social media took down those physical walls.”
There’s a macro message in the micro example of one Oklahoma physician’s practice. The pace and acceptance of technology-driven change in healthcare has accelerated over the last six months. Physicians, patients, insurance companies, and government regulators are willing to change.
It is a golden opportunity for Oklahoma’s entrepreneurs as well.
Scott Meacham is president and CEO of i2E Inc., a nonprofit corporation that mentors many of the state’s technology-based startup companies. i2E receives state support from the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology and is an integral part of Oklahoma’s Innovation Model. Contact Meacham at i2E_Comments@i2E.org.